I’m touched by the enthusiastic feedback for my recent Hippocampus Magazine article, “How to Write About Trauma in a Safe(r) Way.” I’m honored that so many people including therapists (!) find it helpful. Knowing this makes the challenges that led to this hard-won wisdom worth it. Thank you.

In the article, one of the tips I share is to take online courses. When I’m not feeling well, following the step-by-step structure of an online writing course helps me feel productive and motivated. The downside is free courses require self-discipline, but some offer certificates, either free or paid, to help motivate you to complete the course.

These are all courses I’ve completed and found useful, but preferences and experiences may vary. I hope you find at least one course here that piques your interest!


I started writing poems as a teen, but I never felt I really “understood” poetry until I took the following course. Now I feel more confident speaking about and reading poetry, and better able to see which of my own poems are worth revising and taking further.

  • Modern Poetry, nicknamed “ModPo,” is run by the University of Pennsylvania. I took this course last fall for the first time and it’s quickly become my favorite free online course. The vibrant community and interactions with the professor and teaching assistants are amazing!
  • This course runs live every fall, but you can access the content all year long. They also run occasional mini-courses on specific poets during the off-season. Once you’re signed up and on their mailing list, you’ll get notifications about these.
  • In ModPo, you learn about poets who carved out a unique American voice, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, and then trace their influence on modern and postmodern American poetry. I was exhilarated to learn about a type of poetry that more closely resembles my own, as “modern” poetry is a reaction to the rhyming couplets of old, to which I’ve never been partial. Though this isn’t a class where you write or share your own poems, it’s transformed the way I read poetry. I highly recommend this course!
  • They offer a FREE certificate of completion if you finish the whole course during the live fall session. Warning: I did this last year and it’s a lot of work to do all at once, approximately equal to an actual university course, in my opinion. Most people do a portion each year and complete the course after two or three (or more!) years.


The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program runs a free writing course every summer. I’ve participated in each since 2017 and really enjoy them, especially the workshopping component. I always learn a lot! (As of September 2020, this course is on hiatus, but check out the archives of all their past courses below!)

  • The highlight of the UofIowa courses for me is the opportunity to share your own writing (usually up to 1500 words) for feedback. The sheer number of people commenting gives you a good idea of the range of reactions to your piece that you can use as you revise.
  • These courses are more self-led than ModPo, with videos from various instructors, readings, and discussions on each weekly topic. For a small fee, you can purchase a certificate to help motivate you to finish the course (optional). Keep an eye out for their new offering this summer! Their topics change year-to-year.


There are many free choices here! The first two will get you started, and the final one will give you ideas on where to submit.

  • Also check out Lit Mag Love, a free podcast chock-full of excellent information on submitting to both Canadian and American lit mags.


If you want to blog as part of your author platform, ProBlogger’s free guide will get you started. They also provide information on setting up an email list.

Happy free learning!